Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

"Democracy deteriorating," October 16, 2007.

The crisis in governance generally and democracy in particular is so widespread that it's difficult to exaggerate either its breadth or its depth. Effects of war, poverty and displacement dominate the daily lives of Somalis at the expense of the effort to install a western-supported government representative of most of the factions in the country; in Iran, student opposition takes on the ruling elite; in Ukraine and Serbia slim majorities and old guard parties jockeying for power continue to characterize the political landscape; and of course Burma where the military government has arrested a fresh group of protesters.

As scandals flowing from the privatization of military operations spread to Afghanistan, Canada is re-militarizing after a decade or more of darkness that began with events known in Canada as the Somali Affair. Afghanistan doesn't offer much in the way of positive accomplishments as a basis for this new gush of military enthusiasm. But that hasn't stopped the Canadian Forces or the CBC from joining hands in airing an 18 minute promotional feature that almost certainly had approval if not its origins in the Prime Minister's Office.

Brian Stewart: Canada's military has taken the fact of distant war to sell itself as rarely before. ... This has become part of one of the greatest military promotion efforts in Canadian history. ... Operation Connection, a campaign-style effort to further mobilize national support .... But Operation Connection is also out to re-shape the very way that Canadians view their military....a little-understood and highly-skilled sales campaign to "sell the mission," "sell rearmament."

Brian Stewart, CBC Tv's chief correspondent regularly goes “inside the mission.” There doesn't appear to be any support for going anywhere else. So nearly all of the information about the Canadian Forces comes from within the warm embrace of its own knights-on-white-horses-helping-the-world vision of itself.

The emphasis of this mini-documentary, aired two weeks ago on the National, is not on the war or on winning the hearts and minds of Afghans. The target is us and how we see the war.

Even though Stewart dismisses low approval ratings in Quebec as “no worse than in Europe” at 30%, someone is clearly worried.

Evidently the troops are restive too. While Canadians romanticize their peacekeepers, Stewart portrays Canadian soldiers as longing for a return to their roots in the world wars.

Stewart: But here too officers stress that soldiers have returned to their original purpose, a fighting military, not just a global police force, and one linked to the dedication of generations gone by (Other: There's nothing comparable to the situation today unless we go all the way back to the Second World War...)

Afghanistan may not seem like World War Two to you and me. It's hard to believe that the troops see it that way either. But that's what Stewart puts out there.

When Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier turns out to be a better communicator than former Minister of Defence Gordon O'Connor—and he was—and arguably a better communicator than Harper—where then does the center of gravity lie in a well-constituted democracy.

General Lewis Mackenzie, former senior UN commander in the Balkans, cuts to the heart of the issue.

MacKenzie: Combine that with a barracks popularity and being a soldier's soldier and his ability apparently to control the politicians around him--his political masters--it's a masterful performance that only worries you if you are concerned that the military is evolving almost beyond political control.

If that were all, it would be a difficult enough dilemma, but perhaps no crisis. Unfortunately, it's not all.

Canadians will be happy to learn that they can make a difference in Burma, but they might not be happy about how. The British NGO Burma Campaign names five Canadian companies active in Burma (aka Myanmar) on its “dirty list”. The list includes contact information and stock market symbols for the companies so it can be used by campaigners, investment funds and individual investors, and you can view it on the World Report blog at worldreport (alloneword) dot see jay elle wye dot enn eee tea.

The complete list concentrates on companies with a British presence, but includes outfits headquartered in Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Russian Federation, Singapore, Switzerland, Thailand, and the US as well as Canada.

Contact information includes email addresses and stock market symbols. Write the company and ask them to use their influence with the Burmese government to end the violence and release the protesters. Urge them to withdraw. Consider selling your stock in these companies. Be polite. You are not helpless.

If they suggest that they can exercise more influence by staying in the country, ask them if that's how they exercise their influence in Canada.

Burma Campaign UK reminds readers that two days after her release from house arrest in May 2002, Aung San Suu Kyi stated quote “I don’t think we have found evidence that sanctions have harmed the Burmese people, because they have been clearly limited and many of those who have suffered under sanctions have belonged to the business community. Naturally some ordinary employees have been exposed, but we have not yet found proof that large numbers of Burmese have suffered as a result of sanctions. Sanctions have a role to play because they are a strong political message. But also because they are an economic message.” quote

Here are the companies.

CHC Helicopter Corporation
CHC Helicopter Corporation, a Canadian company, is the world’s largest provider of helicopter services to the global offshore oil and gas industry. It has aircraft operating in more than thirty countries around the world including Burma where it has supported offshore operations of international oil companies operating in the country.

Ivanhoe Mines
Ivanhoe Mines is a Canadian mining company with very close links to the regime in Burma. As the largest foreign mining investor in Burma it operates the Monywa Copper mine in a joint venture with the regime. Rail and power infrastructure in the area of the mine was built using forced labour. The mine could be earning the regime over $40 million a year.

Jet Gold Corp
Jet Gold Corp is a Canadian mining company. Its major focus is searching for gold in Shan state in Burma.

Leeward Capital Corp
Leeward Capital Corp are a Canadian mining company. They are in a joint venture with the regime to mine and export amber.

Taiga Consultant Ltd
Taiga Consultant Ltd is a Canadian geological consulting firm. Taiga has an office in Burma and works closely with the regime exploring for base and precious metals.

The Burma Campaign also publishes a “clean list” of companies that have withdrawn from Burma or refuse to buy or sell Burmese products. The Bank of Nova Scotia is on that list.

MPs urged the Martin government to reign in Canadian companies engaged abroad in questionable activities. Not that mining is a questionable activity, but under the circumstances, just being there is questionable.

Canadian Government policy on these matters is to encourage companies to abide voluntarily to a code of corporate social responsibility. If you are writing a letter to one of these companies, I'll bet you can get them to spill some ink if you ask them what corporate social responsibility means to them. But what should the role of our government be in such circumstances, corporate social responsibility being another “toothless old hag” like the UN. It's a governance issue, and part of a growing crisis within liberal democracies.

Speaking of which, let us not forget the Iacobucci Inquiry. Frank Iacobucci is the former Canadian Supreme Court justice in charge of the secret Inquiry into the role of the Canadian government in the torture of detainees Abdullah Almalki, Ahmed El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin. It is seen worldwide as an example of justice in a democracy, and no one in their right mind would want it. Each of them has already been detained for longer than would have been an outrage had it occurred in Nigeria or Iran. Each has been tortured in Syria, one of them in the same prison as Maher Arar, and another in Egypt as well. We are not investigating isolated cases, but a regular practice. Even moderate suspicion suggests that “national security” is used too often as a cover for wrong doing and outright criminal behaviour.

Which adds to the sense of democracy in crisis, and the corresponding public debate is feeble indeed.

It is Nureddin who says—though neither the CBC nor the Toronto Star sees fit to repeat it: “Today it is we three; tomorrow it could be you.”

This article is published by James Terral under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. Commercial media must contact me for permission and fees. Some postings on this site are published under different terms.

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